Don’t draw shitty Spider-Men

Today someone asked for advice on communicating what can be achieved by a product team in different fixed periods of time. The person used the analogy of that video where a great Spider-Man illustration is drawn in 10 minutes, a passable Spider-Man in 1 minute, and really shitty Spider-Man in 10 seconds.

Deadlines are the enemy of quality. In a perfect world, product teams wouldn’t work to them, instead shipping when ready. However, as the person posing the question pointed out, sometimes they’re unavoidable — a conference takes place, regulation comes into effect, etc. So what do we do?

With scrum, there are ways to figure out how much work can get done by a certain date. They’re usually based on measuring the team’s previous velocity against estimates for the future work. My favourite method is MoSCoW and ruthless prioritisation: figure out whether you must, could, should, or won’t include. However long the ‘musts’ will take or cost is your minimum project time. If there’s time or budget remaining, move to the ‘shoulds’ and so forth.

But you don’t skimp on quality to reach deadlines. When you’re using scrum, your team needs a definition of done. The definition is non-negotiable. If it includes user testing, copywriting, code review, or whatever else, you don’t ship until those things are completed.

As soon as you give stakeholders the option of shipping later with the proper process or shipping sooner by leaving some bits out, you’ll never release quality work again. Non-product stakeholders will always choose the expedited timeline, leaving the product team accruing debt each time. Not only that, but when they know bending the rules is possible, those rules become impossible to enforce later on.

If something takes a week, it takes a week. If a someone needs it done in three days, they should have told you at least four days ago. Do as many complete stories as you can before the deadline. Don’t do more stories poorly. If you stick to your guns on this, I promise that everyone else will catch on quickly.

We might have tough conversations. We might upset stakeholders. But we don’t draw shitty Spider-Men.